How to . . . disable your virtual assistants

Had enough of Google Assistant? Sick of Siri? Here’s how to shut them down

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

Hands up who remembers Clippy? The Microsoft Office assistant you loved to hate would pop up at the most inopportune moments. “It looks like you’re trying to write a letter!” he would chirp, while you cursed him and tried to shut him down.

Clippy met his end in Office XP in 2001, apart from a brief attempt to resurrect him as a sticker set on Microsoft Teams, superceded by better tools in Office itself. Clippy was consigned to the scrapheap, and we may have danced a little on his grave.

But the concept of a digital helper hasn’t gone away - it has just evolved. Siri and Google Assistant may be slightly more helpful and far less annoying than Microsoft’s paper clip, but they still have a habit of popping up at inopportune moments.

Press the wrong button and Siri will activate. Say the wrong thing and suddenly Alexa will be listening to your conversations. If you’ve ever had a look at your voice history on your Amazon account or taken a peek at your voice activity on your Google account, it’s an eye opener.

Then there is the question of how your voice commands are being used, and who has access to them. All these services thrive on data, and the more they are used, the more accurate they can become. But what if you aren’t happy to be part of the experiment?

If you’ve had enough of your virtual assistant, you can disable it.

Siri

Want to break up with Siri? If you are using Siri in iOS 10 or earlier, you can simply switch it off under Settings>General, and toggle Siri to off.

In iOS 11+, there are more options to consider. Go to Settings>Siri & Search and go to the Ask Siri section. Disable Listen for Hey Siri and Press Side Button for Siri. Turning off both of these options will also disable the assistant on your Apple Watch, if you have one.

You can also switch off Siri suggestions, which looks at how you use your device and makes suggestions to you based on that data. For example, if you usually leave home for your daily commute at 8am, Siri might tell you via a notification how long it will take you to get to the office, without you having to ask. You can disable this by turning Siri Suggestions off for the lock screen, search and lookup features.

If you don’t want to adopt a scorched earth policy to the search suggestions at least, you can also prevent or grant Siri access to individual apps. Below the Siri Suggestions section, you’ll see a list of your apps. Click on the arrow beside the app, and you’ll have the option to turn off Siri & Suggestions. That will prevent information from the app appearing in search, look up, lock screen and keyboard. Toggle the switch to off, and you will also get the chance to stop the app showing up in Siri’s search and app suggestions feature.

Finally, you can stop Siri from using what it learns about you on your iPhone across all your other iCloud devices. Go to Settings, and select your Apple ID by tapping your profile at the top of the menu. Select iCloud, scroll down to Siri, and turn it off.

If you are using MacOS, go to the Apple menu, select System Preferences and choose Siri. Uncheck the box beside Enable Ask Siri to deactivate the voice commands.

Google Assistant

Assuming you previously set up and used the Google Assistant, it can be quickly and easily disabled. Activate Google Assistant - usually by pressing and holding the home button on your Android device - and select your profile icon in the top right of the screen. Under Assistant, you will see Assistant Devices, which lists the devices on which the virtual helper is active. Select the device you want to disable, and switch the slider beside Google Assistant to off.

To delete your voice data from your Google Account, go to myactivity.google.com. That will show a list of everything you’ve done while signed in to your Google account, from searches and directions to Play Store purchases and audio content.

You can filter by individual products, so click Filter by date & product, and check Voice & Audio. Hit search, and you’ll get a list of results. You can delete them individually or one by one.

Alexa

Amazon’s digital assistant is a little different as people are usually using it on dedicated devices such as an Echo speaker, bought specifically to use Alexa. To disable it, you just unplug the speaker. But what if you want to delete your voice data from Amazon altogether?

On your smartphone or tablet open the Alexa app. Click the menu button, and select Settings. Scroll down to History, where you’ll see a list of interactions with Alexa. You can delete these, one by one.

If you want to delete everything at once, you’ll need a laptop or desktop computer. Go to Amazon.co.uk and sign in, then open Your Account>Content and Devices and select the Your Devices tab. Click the three dots beside your Echo device in the list, and you’ll get an option to Manage voice recordings. When you select that, a pop up window will warn you about the impact deleting the recordings will have - it may make Alexa less accurate - with delete button in the bottom right of the window. Click delete.